Former Lawmakers Dismayed by Partisanship of 2017

Apr 18, 2017

Former Iowa lawmakers are expressing dismay at the partisanship on display at the statehouse, although they say Iowa reflects a national trend.  Former Speaker of the Iowa House, Republican Brent Siegrist says the legislature has become much more partisan than during his time there.

"There's still 150 well-meaning people up there. Even when you disagree with them, they're there to do the job that they think they're sent to do, but it is more divided and more ideologically rigid than when I was there, and I think that takes a toll."

Siegrist says the trend has emerged over the past 10 to 20 years, and he blames the 24 hour news cycle. "People get entrenched in their positions. A lot of people go to the legislature now and they see everything in black and white, and the legislative process is a lot of gray." Siegrist says while people tend to see hot button issues like the death penalty or abortion in black and white, "the majority of the issues before the legislature require some compromise, some give and take." He says a never-ending news cycle just reinforces rigid positions.

I want my elected representative, elected senator to think for themselves after consulting with their own constituents. - Johnie Hammond

Bill Gluba is a Democrat who served in both the Iowa House and Senate in the 1970s, and he says bipartisanship at the legislature seems to have broken down. "When I served in the legislature, Bob Ray was Governor. Bob Ray was a moderate Republican. There aren't many moderate Republicans like Bob Ray."

Gluba says his own party also shares the blame, with Democrats influenced by labor unions like AFSCME and the teachers' union. He also says there is too much money in politics today and that lawmakers head to Des Moines after an expensive campaign "bought and paid for."

Maggie Tinsman is a former Republican State Senator from the Quad Cities. She says she was shocked on a recent visit to the capitol. "I was going to a senate education meeting and everyone was just kind of out in the hall because the Democrats were caucusing in the room. They don't discuss anymore, they caucus ahead of time and just come out with a position, and that's very different."

IPR's Statehouse Correspondent Joyce Russell confirms the practice and calls it a relatively recent "big change."

Democrat and former State Senator from Ames, Johnie Hammond says she is pained by an expectation of party loyalty today. "I didn't always vote with my party, although I generally agreed with it philosophically. There were times when I was the lone 'no' vote or 'yes' vote, and that just does not happen anymore. That's a shame. I want my elected representative, elected senator to think for themselves after consulting with their own constituents."

Democrat and former State Representative Jean Lloyd Jones from Iowa City also visited the Iowa Statehouse with Senator Tinsman. "I think we both heard from our respective party people that the other side was being absolutely impossible. They wouldn't listen. They wouldn't talk to them. The atmosphere seemed to be almost toxic."

The lawmakers talked with IPR's Dean Borg on River to River.